Hello everybody, welcome to episode 99 of Optimal Living Advice, the podcast where we take any questions you might have about the many struggles of life and get them answered for you here on the show. I’m your host, certified life coach Greg Audino. As we come to you one episode shy of our 100th, it’s only appropriate that we look at a very deep and heartfelt question today on avoiding pain. It's a question that I believe really speaks to the true nature of how we evolve into people with lives worth living. So without further ado, let’s take a look at today’s question…
QUESTION: “After a long history of health problems, my grandfather now has very little time left to live. I love my grandfather and we have always been very close, but lately I see myself pulling away from him and I feel very guilty about it but don’t know how to stop. Why am I doing this? Shouldn’t I be wanting to spend more time with him right now? Everyone else in my family is making extra time to see him, but I'm always coming up with excuses for why I can't go with them. How can I get comfortable with him again while he's still here?”
Avoiding Pain is One of the Many Variations of Grief
You know this is one of the questions that we don’t typically want to ask. It can be hard to address questions of our own shame and wrongdoing and I think this particular situation is one that we’ve all been in at one time or another. So thank you for sending this in.
With that being said, I also think this is a situation that we find ourselves in less and less as we age; or at least, less and less the more death we face.
Here’s what’s going on: you’re scared and you’re trying to avoid pain the best you can. People do this all the time, and it’s one of the many variations of grief. You might not like it, you might not intend to do it, but it’s what your mind is resorting to as a means of comforting itself.
This reaction may be tied to a more singular event from your past, but if you’re younger and/or more inexperienced with death, it’s very normal, too. And if you still have a grandparent, I can’t imagine you’re that old.
Aging and Loss of Innocence
Part of aging is losing our innocence – much of which is due to the death of loved ones. Naturally, its counterpart is trying desperately to cling to the innocence of youth and the lack of responsibility that comes with it. It feels like an easier way of living, so of course we’ll do what we can to retain it.
This process can go on for a while, and depending on what you’ve experienced, you may be feeling this well into middle age. Enter mid-life crises when people leave their minivans and aged partners for sexy 20-somethings and sports cars. It’s all part of the same process. It’s all an effort to bring back youth we still want or feel like we missed out on.
So what I’m saying is that your reaction to this is more than understandable. It’s not ideal, but it’s understandable. And if you want to change your reaction and approach your grandfather’s situation more heartily, you’re going to have to start by not judging where you’re at developmentally.
Even if you want the focus to be on your grandfather, your focus right now is on you, and that’s what we have to work with, so that’s what we’re going to work with.
Treasuring Your Relationship
With that in mind, let’s reframe this thing. Right now, you’re looking after yourself by shying away from the situation. That’s what you’ve convinced yourself is best for you, but it’s not.
Let’s explore what you have to gain by confronting this and spending time with your grandfather, and hopefully you’ll start to see why doing so is the best thing for both you and him.
First of all, you love your grandfather, and this time is when you’ll have the most enriching moments with him. It sounds like you’ve taken a lot of pride in the relationship you two have had, and in these moments, in these final interactions you have a chance to have with him, you’ll realize how truly valuable your relationship has been and will be.
You want to look back on him fondly, and you’ll have a very hard time doing that if you know that you cheated both of you from sharing this culmination of the relationship.
Your Grandfather's Reflections
Second, this is when you’re going to find out what your grandfather is really about. As you’ve aged through different phases of life together, you’ve likely shared a lot of love, laughs, and maybe some deeper discussions, too. But now that you’re the oldest you’ll ever be with him, you’re the most capable of understanding the legacy he’s leaving behind and the values he holds true.
Your grandfather is reflecting right now. There are no ifs, ands or buts about it.
You’ll want to say you really knew your grandfather – adult to adult. Go in there and learn the final lessons that he’s settled on and is ready to share with you. They might just be enough to change your life.
A Life Worth Living
Lastly, leaning into the impending passing of your grandfather generates an opportunity for you to change your relationship with death for the better. This is going to come in handy as you get older, and death of those around you not only becomes a regular thing, but a regular thing that requires your involvement.
It’s going to help you come to terms with your own mortality and the mortality of others, which is a true blessing. At the end of the day, this existential sector of aging is something you’re going to have to do eventually if you want to live a life worth living. It may never feel good, but it will feel meaningful, and that’s what life is about.
I will summarize by saying that beneath the surface, this is what’s best for you and your grandfather alike. While his illness is not comfortable for you, it presents you with an opportunity to attain lifelong lessons and avoid lifetime regret. It’s the final chapter of your relationship with him, and this isn’t a book you can just go back and reopen after taking a break from the tough part.
You only have to be brave for as long as this is going on; a speck of time in the grand scheme of things. But in that speck of time will come gifts that last forever.
Thank you dearly to the woman who sent this question in. It was a really a good opportunity not only for you to dig deep, but for all of us to maybe take a look at the painful stuff we’re avoiding, and how those avoidances affect our relationships with ourselves and others.
I hope we were able to help you out today and I hope that the remaining time you have left with your grandfather is as full of love as the time you spent with him in the past.
For anyone else out there who would like to send a question in, don’t be shy. We’d love to hear from you and give you some support. You can email your question to us at advice AT oldpodcast DOT com
Send it there and we’ll answer it for you on the show. That brings us to the end of 99, folks. I’ll see you back here soon for episode 100, which is an extra special one!